I had an interesting experience last week that I keep thinking about. The first night of the meeting I was preaching, I stood to and called my text. And there was a weird response by the congregation. Something strange was happening, but I didn’t know what. Lots of thoughts flooded my mind. But I really couldn’t catch the vibe. The congregation, to whom I had preached the past four years, was quite tentative throughout the entire message. But I couldn’t figure out why.
A few minutes after a sat down from preaching, it all became clear. One of the pastors leaned over to me and told me that the pastor who opened the meeting Sunday night preached the same text and/or message. And throughout the week, I kept hearing about how we both preached the same message. For some reason, it made me somewhat nervous. But, at the same time, I was at peace about it. I had preached what I believed the Lord wanted me to say. And my message was the product of my own Bible study and sermon preparation.
After the last service of the week, I received a copy of the other pastor’s message on DVD. And even though I was dead-tired by the time I made it to my room, I crawled into bed with my computer and watched the message. Indeed, it was the same text. And, essentially, it was the same message. We both preached the same doctrinal theme from the text. But the organization of the messages were different. We labeled the messages differently. I worked through the message with three main points in my outline; he had four. THe homiletical approach was different. And the way we argued the message was different. It really was the same message preached from two different perspectives.
This got me to thinking about the ethical matter of pulpit plagiarism.
The late evangelist, Vance Havner, is quoted to have said that when he began preaching, he was determined to be original or nothing. He ended up being both, Havner said. This is true of every preacher. All faithful preachers deliver an unoriginal, “stolen” message – the word of God. Blblical preaching simply explains what the word of God means by what it says. And if we read the text right, we will find that the doctrinal theme we draw from the passage will be pretty close to the conclusions drawn by most faithful Bible expositors. In fact, if you come up with a reading of the text that no one else has ever seen, you’re wrong! Likewise, most Bible expositors use many of the same exegetical resources. So it should be no surprise for you to hear two messages that “overlap,” for lack of a better term.
But let’s be clear. Stealing other people’s material and preaching it as if it is your own work is wrong.
After the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech earlier this year, a high-profile “mega-church” pastor went to his pulpit and preached a message that he said the Lord had given him for the church. Later that week, his local newspaper outed him, claiming that the message he preached from actually from a website that sells sermons. And this “inspired” message had, in fact, had been preached and posted by several other pastors across the country that same day!
I repeat. This is wrong. The eighth commandment should apply to our pulpit work: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). Now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t use sources. To the contrary, it’s arrogant for you to study a text and preach a sermon on it without consulting the wisdom of those who have, in some instances, spent a lifetime studying those passages, books or themes. And I believer in collecting a lot of ideas in order to come up with one good idea. So I milk a lot of cows in sermon preparation. But I churn my own butter. And when you do this, something wonderful can happen. For instance, you can stand and preach a text that was just preached in that same pulpit three days earlier. And you can make the point the previous sermon made. Yet, God can use your preaching – YOUR PREACHING – to declare the unchanging truth of God’s word in a fresh, new, and life-changing way.
Just my two cents.